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Sarah Burgett, O.D.

The solar eclipse Monday, August 21, 2017 will be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. The continental United States will be able to observe the moon passing between the sun and the Earth for two to three hours from beginning to end. The Quad Cities and surrounding area will have a partial eclipse. Southern Illinois lies within the path of totality meaning the moon will completely cover the sun for a short time. Make sure you are prepared to watch this exciting event and know how to keep your eyes safe.

While watching a solar eclipse can be a memorable experience, looking directly at the sun for even a short time without wearing the right eye protection can damage your retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of your eye. Injury to the retina after exposure to high intensity light is called solar retinopathy. Solar retinopathy usually occurs at the fovea, the central portion of the vision, after sun-gazing or eclipse viewing causing a reduction in visual acuity (sharpness of vision) and/or central or paracentral scotoma (a blind spot). Think about how a magnifying lens can be used to tightly concentrate light to start a fire. The same thing happens when viewing the sun with the naked eye, except instead of tinder or a leaf receiving the burn, it’s your retina. Decreased vision and blindness caused by staring at the sun can be serious and permanent.

Because of the risk to the eyes and vision, it is especially important for people to clearly understand how to safely view the eclipse. Ordinary sunglasses – even very dark ones, smoked glasses, smartphones, unfiltered cameras, telescopes and binoculars are not safe. The intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage your eyes. Refraining from looking directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is the safest option. Consider watching the event online; NASA will have a live stream of the eclipse. Another safe way to observe the event indirectly is using a technique called pinhole projection. A pinhole viewer lets you project an image of the eclipse onto another surface, like paper, a wall or pavement. According to the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology the only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through solar filters. These filters must meet international standard ISO 12312-2 for safe viewing with such products.

If you choose to use an ISO-certified solar filter during the eclipse it is important to inspect your filter before using it. If you see any scratches or damage, discard it. Read and follow all instructions printed on or packaged with the filter. Supervise children to ensure the proper use of solar filters. Do not remove the filter at any time while observing the eclipse to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. To promote safe viewing, Eye Surgeons Associates will have a limited supply of these specially designed solar eclipse glasses. Stop in to any of our offices on Monday, August 14th to pick up yours. (Please follow the user instructions. One per person until supplies are gone.)

A little preparation now can ensure that you enjoy the upcoming awe-inspiring event and keep your eyes healthy. If you do experience discomfort or vision problems following the eclipse please visit your local eye doctor for a comprehensive eye examination.

BIO: Dr. Burgett is an optometrist with Eye Surgeons Associates. Her clinical interests include primary care, medical co-management, and contact lenses. She practices out of the Eye Surgeons Associates Rock Island, IL office.

The material contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider.

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